TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback selected a former state education official Tuesday to serve as director of business and education innovation in the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Diane DeBacker, commissioner of the Kansas Department of Education until 2014, most recently worked at RTI International, a nonprofit organization headquartered in North Carolina. She worked with DTI to develop partnerships among K-12 education leaders and education policy organizations.

Brownback said DeBacker was selected for the new position to bridge the gap in Kansas between the way students are educated and workforce demands of the business sector.

“We want our students to be equipped to jump in and fill the needs of the modern changing economy,” Brownback said.

In September, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, in collaboration with JPMorgan Chase, reported that Kansas ranked last in the United States with the smallest share of good-paying jobs filled by workers without a college bachelor’s degree.

The researchers said less than 35 percent of jobs in Kansas pay an average of $55,000 per year and a minimum of $35,000 annually were held down by these less-educated workers. Decline in the nation’s manufacturing sector — Kansas is no exception — wiped out many solid jobs open to high school graduates.

In the future, the report said, bright career opportunities would exist for individuals with at least some post-secondary education and training, especially in health, information technology and financial fields.

DeBacker’s career in education spans 35 years, including work as principal of an alternative high school in the Auburn-Washburn district, as associate superintendent in the Shawnee Heights district and as Kansas education commissioner from 2010 to 2014. She also worked in the United Arab Emirates as a director in the Dubai education system.

“If our state is going to remain competitive in the ever-changing 21st century economy,” DeBacker said, “then we must develop innovative ways to ensure that we are equipping our students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed right here in Kansas.”

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, said DeBacker’s role would be to improve communication among the governor’s office, education institutions and industry to help in training of students to fill in-demand jobs.